Solon wants higher penalty for looting during calamities

MANILA, Philippines - Citing reports of looting after the onslaught of super typhoon "Haiyan" in November, a lawmaker is proposing to increase the penalty for such acts.

Former senator and now Muntinlupa City Representative Rodolfo Biazon filed House Bill 3367, which sets the penalty of Reclusion Temporal in its medium period or at least 14 years and eight months for individuals found guilty of looting.

"Although we have laws that punish looting, the same do not appear to serve as a sufficient deterrent. There is a need to increase the penalty for such an act to discourage would be violators," Biazon said in a statement.

Under Article 310 of the Revised Penal Code, theft during disasters or calamities are punishable by "penalties next higher by two degrees" than the prescribed penalties for various degrees of theft.

The congressman said that while "Haiyan" caused widespread damage in the country, "what is terribly offensive that added more pain to the miseries of the victims are the reports and graphic pictures of widespread looting by recalcitrant and heartless individuals."

Reports of looting or typhoon survivors taking food and other items from stores and even government warehouses also devastated by the calamity has resulted in debates on whether the perpetrators should be penalized or forgiven.

Biazon's proposed bill defines looting as a crime committed by any person or group with intent to take personal property, food and belongings by entering inhabited and uninhabited dwellings or commercial buildings.

A higher penalty of Reclusion Temporal in its maximum period (at least 17 years and 4 months) will be imposed if the stolen object consists of food, medicines or other materials intended for relief and rescue, rehabilitation and reconstruction of typhoon-hit areas.

Meanwhile, a penalty of Reclusion Perpetua (30 years) will be meted out if the crime is committed with the use of a deadly weapon or is committed by an organised or syndicated crime group.

Days after "Haiyan," Justice Secretary Leila De Lima admitted that it will be hard to enforce the law against looting in Tacloban City and other areas hit by the typhoon.

"There's a lot of sensitivities involved here. Application of laws should thus be tempered with compassion, mercy or liberality. What is imperative is real and physical presence of authorities, both local and national, to maintain peace and order," she said.